Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Michael Shepherd email@example.com
State House Bureau
HALLOWELL — Seven candidates for five city offices in the Nov. 5 election took part in a Tuesday night forum at City Hall, where there was more agreement than disagreement on key issues facing the city.
Among the major topics on candidates’ minds were budgeting in the face of scaled-back state aid and the future of the state-owned, largely vacant Stevens School complex off Winthrop Street.
There is only one race with two candidates on the ballot, between George Lapointe, of Middle Street, and Andrew McPherson, of Chamberlain Drive, for an at-large seat on the City Council.
Both billed themselves as fiscal conservatives not long after the city’s August adoption of a municipal budget that was about 8 percent lower than last year’s, but one that is still expected to result in an 8 percent property tax increase.
The $2.2 million budget resulted in the tax hike largely because Hallowell’s share of the budget for Regional School Unit 2, also composed of Farmingdale, Richmond and Monmouth, is about $380,000 higher than last year, largely because of reduced state funding. The reductions in state aid to Hallowell is $70,000 lower than last year. Lapointe spoke of “constraining the budget, but constraining it in a way that will still address critical needs.”
McPherson has campaigned on conservatism, saying the tax hike was too high; and overall, taxes will drive people away from living or staying in Hallowell.
“I think it’s starting to get out of hand,” he said.
Dawn Gallagher, of Union Street, will be the only candidate on the ballot for a Hallowell school board seat, running for re-election to Regional School Unit 2’s board, which she chairs. However, Chris Vallee, a well-known Water Street real estate agent, announced his write-in candidacy for the seat on Monday and he was allowed to participate in the forum.
Gallagher said the school district representing Hallowell, Farmingdale, Richmond, Monmouth and Dresden has had to lean more on Hallowell taxpayers because of declining state aid, but that has resulted in a better system.
Going forward, she said the district must not wait for state funds to increase, but look to raise revenue “from within” by attracting tuition-paying students from other communities and working to attract families to the area.
Vallee’s said his run for school board — his first try at elective office — was to give voters a choice in the previously uncontested race and to cast a positive light on Hallowell. “I don’t have the experience that Dawn has in being on the school board, but I know I’m an extremely hard worker,” he said. “I have passion for everything that I do. I’m a very quick learner.”
Mark Walker, of Water Street, president of the council, is running unopposed for mayor. Mayor Charlotte Warren is not running for re-election.
He said the maintenance and eventual sale of the Stevens School complex is one of his main concerns. The state began trying to sell the property in 2008, first through a request for proposals and then by listing it for $1.1 million, but there have been no takers.
Now the 14-building, 63.5-acre property is mostly vacant. Inmates housed at the Central Maine Pre-Release Center were moved elsewhere this spring.
The Department of Marine Resources and the Natural Resources Service Center are still there, and Regional School Unit 2 has a lease on space there for its central offices until 2015. Recently, windows in the former pre-release center building have been boarded up. Walker said the city has been and must continue to “prod them to do what they need to do” to maintain it. Then, he said, the state must “prepare it for sale.”
Walker’s Ward 2 council seat, representing the city’s northeast section along the Kennebec River and up Central and Winthrop streets, is up for grabs; and Lynn Irish, of Second Street, is running unopposed for it.
Councilor Mark Sullivan, of Second Street, is running unopposed for re-election to his Ward 4 seat, representing a southeastern portion of Hallowell.
At the forum, Walker, McPherson, Lapointe and Sullivan said they wouldn’t support having the city own buildings on the campus, as it probably would be a financial burden it couldn’t afford.
But Sullivan said he wants the city to work with the state and the eventual developer on the site, calling it “a great challenge and opportunity” for Hallowell.
“The potential it holds is just awesome. It also addresses many of the needs we’re talking about tonight: open space, real estate, housing and improving the tax base,” he said.
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652